These days, we use our smartphones for everything. They’re always with us, even when we’re in the backcountry. Smartphones are helpful but they shouldn’t be your line of defense if you’re out in the wilderness. Technology is never a substitute for knowledge, experience and safe planning.
When you’re hiking in the backcountry, cell phone reception is often non-existent. Even on hiking trails that are located close to cities, reception can be spotty due to the terrain. You should not rely on your cellphone to call for help or to guide you to safety. Many unprepared hikers have gotten themselves into more trouble by going further off trail in search of a cellphone signal, making it more difficult for rescuers to locate them.
The battery life on smartphones leaves something to be desired, and batteries can be drained quickly if the phone is constantly searching for a signal. To preserve battery life, turn your phone off or at least turn it to airplane mode while you’re hiking. By doing so, you will increase the chances that your phone will be available to use in an emergency.
While it is a good idea to carry your cell phone with you while hiking, you should not rely on it as part of your survival plan. Prepare yourself for unexpected circumstances and pack a map, warm clothes, a compass (make sure you know how to use it), a flashlight, extra batteries, a knife, signaling devices, shelter, a first aid kit, rain gear and fire-starting tools.
You should also carry more food and water than you think you’ll need, just in case you become lost or injured. Basically, you should be prepared to spend a night out in the wilderness, even if that’s not part of your plan.
Always let friends and family know where you’re planning on hiking and when they should expect you to return. Leave a note on your car with information about your itinerary. If you get lost or injured, stay calm and don’t make any rash decisions. Evaluate your situation and make smart decisions. If you have cell phone reception and you’re in an emergency situation, call 911. They will be able to track your location based on your call.